Finding the Next Steve Jobs: A book review by Bob Morris

Finding the Next Steve JobsFinding the Next Steve Jobs: How to Find, Hire, Keep and Nurture Creative Talent
Nolan Bushnell with Gene Stone
netminds (2013)

Ignore the title and focus on the wealth of information, insights, and wisdom Bushnell provides

Nolan Bushnell is a technology pioneer, entrepreneur and engineer. Often cited as the father of the video game industry, he is best known as the founder of Atari Corporation and Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza Time Theater. Over the past four decades he has founded numerous companies, including Catalyst Technologies, the first technology incubator; Etak, the first digital navigation system; ByVideo, the first online ordering system; and uWink, the first touchscreen menu ordering and entertainment system, among others. Currently, with his new company, Brainrush, he is devoting his talents to enhancing and improving the educational process by integrating the latest in brain science. Additionally, he enjoys motivating and inspiring others in his speeches on entrepreneurship, creativity, innovation and education.

In this volume, written with Gene Stone, Bushnell shares just about everything he has learned — thus far — about the do’s and don’ts of identifying, recruiting, hiring, onboarding, nurturing and (when necessary) protecting, and then retaining the [begin italics] creative [end italics] any organization needs to achieve its strategic objectives. In fact, having sufficient creative talent should be among those objectives. Immediately he establishes a direct and personal, almost conversational rapport with his reader as he focuses on a series of insights, 52 of which are admonitions that serve as titles of 52 brief chapters. For example, “Make your workplace an advertisement fir your company (#1), “Hire the crazy” (#10), “Hire under your nose” (#15), “Champion the bad ideas” (#27), “Neutralize the naysayers” (#40), and “Take creatives to creative places (#42).

Here in Dallas near the downtown area, there is a Farmer’s Market at which several merchants offer slices of fresh fruit as samples of their wares. In that same spirit, I now share a few brief excerpts from Bushnell’s narrative to suggest the thrust and flavor of his style.

o “Hiring a creative is about embracing risk, not mitigating it. So if you’re starting a company, perhaps your first task is to find creatives who can hire other creatives.” (Page 40)

o “The willingness to get up after a speech, approach the speaker, and tell him how much you enjoyed his ideas speaks volumes. I have a friend in the New York media who has hired all of his assistants from the pool of people who’ve come up after a speech to ask questions.” (59)

o “One of the best hires I ever made was a waitress at a California Pizza Kitchen restaurant. She was funny, as she turned all of my feeble attempts at humor into real comedy, and she made everyone around her feel terrific. In awe, my whole family watched this woman as if she had a 10,000-watt spotlight trained on her. I hired her right then and there to develop some innovative marketing programs. She turned out to be spectacular, pouring the same positive energy that made her an amazing waitress into her new job with me.” (71-72)

o “I believe that everyone who wants to be creative must find a place where his or her mind can be alone and untouched by the insanity of complexity. There is a place, a state of mind, somewhere between cognitive reasoning and dreaming, a place you can find just before you go to sleep or just after you wake up. It is from here that imaginative thoughts spring.” (130)

o “The skills that make people highly creative do not necessarily make them articulate or even glib. So the other important task of a manager is to communicate for them — to recognize the good in their project and then become their in-house public-relations director. A great manager is a great cheerleader — of adults.” (158)

o “Through years of experience I’ve discovered that letting people write all over walls, in any medium, promotes creativity. Most creative types think in terms of broad strokes. They are often limited [or feel limited] by the space available on a piece of paper or a computer monitor. Moreover, drawing while talking to someone held=s communicate complex ideas.

“Now I install huge white boards and/pr chalk boards everywhere in my companies. In one, we painted every wall with blackboard paint, some green and some black. The building shouted creative! to everyone, workers and visitors alike.” (167)

o “Toxics are more dangerous — and often harder to recognize — [than are Naysayers]. They constantly reframe every possible new development at the company into one that is good for them — without any interest in whether or not it’s good for the company. If the company tanks, they can always get a new job, since they’re constantly working on their résumés and their contacts. They don’t care. They don’t work for the company. They work for themselves. Toxics are extremely subtle, preternaturally political, and potentially psychopathic. Exterminate them.” (197)

o One day, “Steve [Jobs] also told me that he had visited The Metropolitan Museum of Art the previous day, and that his notebooks were brimming with ideas to fix the marketing and design of some things he was working on. I never found out the specifics of which pieces of art had inspired these notes. I do know that a random walk through a museum can inspire anyone.” (225)

I realize that the title of this book will attract attention but as Bushnell would be among the first to acknowledge, Steve Jobs was one-of-a-kind. He once hired him, they became and remained friends, and Bushnell considers Jobs one of the most creative people he has ever known. Whether or not Apple would hire Steve Jobs today is subject to discussion but I am certain that Bushnell would.

No brief commentary such as mine can possibly do full justice to the quality and value of the material that he with Gene Stone provide. However, I hope that I have at least suggested why I think so highly of his lively examination of what could be viewed as “the care and feeding” of some of the most valuable and least understood members of any workforce. Also, I hope that those who read my commentary will be better prepared to determine whether or not to obtain and read this book. In that event, I hope what it offers will help you, not to find the next Steve Jobs but rather, to locate within or beyond your organization the creative talent you need to achieve the given organizational objectives.

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